Unilever Clamps Down on Brand Safety and Bot Fraud With ‘Trusted Publishers’ Network

Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers, will begin allocating the majority of its digital advertising budget to a network of hand picked publishers as it seeks more effective ways to fight issues like brand safety and ad fraud. The network, called ‘Unilever Trusted Publishers’, will be made up of a mix of global, regional and local digital publishers and platforms, which Unilever will work with closely as it plans its campaigns.

The brand has not named any specific publications which will be included yet, but said they will be selected based on “strict vetting criteria”. These criteria will include Unilever’s standards for viewability, verification and value, as well as standards around ad fraud, brand safety, ad experience, traffic quality, ad formatting and data access. Unilever’s digital spend won’t go exclusively to these partnered publishers, but the company said it’s eventual aim is that most of its digital advertising would be bought through the protocol.

Unilever picked out fake views, where ads are viewed by bots instead of real people, as the focus of the initiative. The announcement cited research from MIT Technology Review which found that click fraud generates £20 million per month in profit for those involved, and further research from Dianomi which said that bots can account for up to 90 percent of ad campaign clicks.

Bots have found themselves in Unilever’s crosshairs before, both as part of its wider push to clean up the digital advertising ecosystem, and more specifically in the context of influencer marketing. Unilever CMO Keith Weed pledged at Cannes last year to crack down on influencers who paid for fake likes and follows on their social media accounts – and this new effort effectively extends that pledge to a wider range of platforms and publishers.

“Now is the perfect time for Unilever to build on the efforts and progress we’ve made so far in the last twelve months in cleaning up the digital ecosystem,” said Weed. “We’ve been clear for years about what we want to see online – more consumer trust through greater publisher transparency, more effective use of time and money, and better online experiences for everyone. Online advertising credibility is still a global, industry-wide problem and as the world’s second largest advertiser, we have a responsibility to use our scale and influence to address this issue.”

“The Unilever Trusted Publishers will add more rigour to how Unilever advertises online,” he continued. “We want to know that real people, not robots, are enjoying our ads – bots don’t eat a lot of Ben & Jerry’s. We will champion the good actors that help us in this while diminishing the roles of the bad.”

The announcement continues a recent trend of some of the biggest advertisers, including Unilever and fellow FMCG giant P&G, flexing their muscles in taking more control of their media spend. Both companies are experimenting with new models for how they work with agencies too, trying to draw talent from a number of different agencies to work on the same campaigns.

As with all of these initiatives trialled by the big brands, Unilever’s publisher network might seem like an attractive idea to other advertisers, but those with smaller budgets would likely have a harder time getting publishers to comply with their specific standards.


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